French Philosophers

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The French philosophers of the Enlightenment Era didn't play an active role in the events of the revolution, but their ideas inspired the revolutionary movement. The main philosophers were Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu. MONTESQUIEU Montesquieu (18 January 1689, La Brède, Gironde – 10 February 1755), was a French social commentator and political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, taken for granted in
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  The French philosophers of the Enlightenment Era didn't play an active role in the eventsof the revolution, but their ideas inspired the revolutionary movement. The main philosophers were Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu. MONTESQUIEU Montesquieu (18 January 1689,La Brède, Gironde– 10 February 1755), was aFrench social commentator andpolitical thinker who lived during theEnlightenment.He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers,taken for granted inmodern discussions of governmentand implemented in manyconstitutionsthroughout the world. He was largely responsible for the popularization of the terms   feudalism  and  Byzantine Empire .Montesquieu's most influential work divided French society into three classes (or  trias politica , a term he coined): themonarchy,thearistocracy, and thecommons.  Montesquieu saw two types of governmental power existing: thesovereignand theadministrative. The administrative powers were theexecutive, thelegislative, and the  judicial. These should be separate from and dependent upon each other so that theinfluence of any one power would not be able to exceed that of the other two, either singly or in combination. This was radical because it completely eliminated the threeEstatesstructure of the French Monarchy: theclergy,the aristocracy, and the people at large represented by theEstates-General, thereby erasing the last vestige of afeudalistic structure.Likewise, there were three main forms of government, each supported by a social principle :monarchies(free governments headed by a hereditary figure, e.g. king,queen, emperor), which rely on the principle of honor;republics(free governmentsheaded by popularly elected leaders), which rely on the principle of virtue; anddespotisms(enslaved governments headed bydictators), which rely on fear. The free governments are dependent on fragile constitutional arrangements. Montesquieu devotesfour chapters of  The Spirit of the Laws to a discussion of England, a contemporary freegovernment, where liberty was sustained by a balance of powers. Montesquieu worriedthat in France the intermediate powers (i.e., the nobility) which moderated the power of the prince were being eroded. These ideas of the control of power were often used in thethinking of MaximilianRobespierre. JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU Jean Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a major Genevois  philosopher , writer, and composer of 18th-centuryRomanticism. Hispolitical philosophyheavily  influenced theFrench Revolution, as well as theAmerican Revolutionand the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is  The Social Contract  , which outlines the basisfor a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism.Publishedin 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in theWestern tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article  Economie Politique (  Discourse on Political Economy ), featured in Diderot's  Encyclopédie . The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, Man was born free,and he is everywhere in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remainsmore of a slave than they. Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. Associety developed, division of labor and private property required the human race toadopt institutions of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be infrequent competition with his fellow men while also becoming increasingly dependent onthem. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According toRousseau, by joining together into civil society through the social contract andabandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves andremain free. This is because submission to the authority of thegeneral willof the peopleas a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others andalso ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of thelaw.Although Rousseau argues thatsovereignty(or the power to make the laws) should be inthe hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and thegovernment. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementingand enforcing the general will. The sovereign is the rule of law, ideally decided on bydirect democracy in an assembly. Under a monarchy, however, the real sovereign is stillthe law. Rousseau was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereigntyvia a representative assembly (Book III, Chapter XV). The kind of republicangovernment of which Rousseau approved was that of the city state, of which Geneva, wasa model, or would have been, if renewed on Rousseau's principles. France could not meetRousseau's criterion of an ideal state because it was too big. Much subsequentcontroversy about Rousseau's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claimsthat citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free. DENIS DIDEROT Denis Diderot (October 5, 1713 – July 31, 1784) was aFrenchphilosopher, art critic, andwriter. He was a prominent figure during theEnlightenmentand is best-known for serving as co-founder and chief editor of and contributor to the  Encyclopédie .  André Le Breton,a bookseller and printer, approached Diderot with a project for the publication of a translation of Ephraim Chambers'  Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionaryof Arts and Sciences into French, first undertaken by the EnglishmanJohn Mills,andfollowed by the German Gottfried Sellius. Diderot accepted the proposal. During thistranslation his creative mind and astute vision transformed the work. Instead of a merereproduction of the Cyclopaedia , he persuaded Le Breton to enter upon a new work,which would collect all the active writers, ideas, and knowledge that were moving thecultivated class of theRepublic of Lettersto its depths; however, they werecomparatively ineffective due to their lack of dispersion. His enthusiasm for the projectwas transmitted to the publishers; they collected a sufficient capital for a more vastenterprise than they had first planned.Jean le Rond d'Alembertwas persuaded to becomeDiderot's colleague; the requisite permission was procured from the government.In 1750 an elaborate prospectus announced the project to a delighted public, and in 1751the first volume was published. This work was very unorthodox and had many forward-thinking ideas for the time. Diderot stated within this work, An encyclopedia ought tomake good the failure to execute such a project hitherto, and should encompass not onlythe fields already covered by the academies, but each and every branch of humanknowledge. Upon encompassing every branch of knowledge this will give, the power tochange men's common way of thinking. This idea was profound and intriguing, as it wasone of the first works during the Enlightenment. Diderot wanted to give all people theability to further their knowledge and, in a sense, allow every person to have anyknowledge they sought of the world. The work, implementing not only the expertise of scholars and Academies in their respective fields but that of the common man in their  proficiencies in their trades, sought to bring together all knowledge of the time andcondense this information for all to use. These people would amalgamate and work under a society to perform such a project. They would work alone to shed societal conformities,and build a multitude of information on a desired subject with varying view points,methods, or philosophies. He emphasized the vast abundance of knowledge held withineach subject with intricacies and details to provide the greatest amount of knowledge to be gained from the subject. All people would benefit from these insights into differentsubjects as a means of betterment; bettering society as a whole and individuals alike.This message under the  Ancien Régime  would severely dilute the regime's ability tocontrol the people. Knowledge and power, two key items the upper class held over thelower class, were in jeopardy as knowledge would be more accessible, giving way tomore power amongst the lower class. An encyclopedia would give the layman an abilityto reason and use knowledge to better themselves; allowing for upward mobility andincreased intellectual abundance amongst the lower class. A growth of knowledgeamongst this segment of society would provide power to this group and a yearning toquestion the government. The numerated subjects in thefolioswere not just for the goodof the people and society, but were for the promotion of the state as well. The state didnot see any benefit in the works, instead viewing them as a contempt to contrive power and authority from the state.Diderot's work was plagued by controversy from the beginning; the project wassuspended by the courts in 1752. Just as the second volume was completed accusationsarose, regarding seditious content, concerning the editors entries on religion and natural  law. Diderot was detained and his house was searched for manuscripts for subsequentarticles. But the search proved fruitless as no manuscripts could be found. They werehidden in the house of an unlikely confederate– Chretien de Lamoignon Malesherbes, thevery official who ordered the search. Although Malesherbis was a staunch absolutist-loyal to the monarchy, he was sympathetic to the literary project. Along with his support,and that of other well-placed influential confederates, the project resumed. Diderotreturned to his efforts only to be constantly embroiled in controversy.These twenty years were to Diderot not merely only a time of incessant drudgery, butharassing persecution and desertion of friends. The ecclesiastical party detested the  Encyclopédie , in which they saw a rising stronghold for their philosophic enemies. By1757 they could endure it no longer. The subscribers had grown from 2,000 to 4,000, ameasure of the growth of the work in popular influence and power. The  Encyclopédie threatened the governing social classes of France (aristocracy) because it took for grantedthe justice of religious tolerance,freedom of thought, and the value of science and industry. It asserted the doctrine that the main concern of the nation's government oughtto be the nation's common people. It was believed that the  Encyclopédie was the work of an organized band of conspirators against society, and that the dangerous ideas they heldwere made truly formidable by their open publication. In 1759, the  Encyclopédie wasformally suppressed. The decree did not stop the work, which went on, but its difficultiesincreased by the necessity of being clandestine.Jean le Rond d'Alembertwithdrew fromthe enterprise and other powerful colleagues, includingAnne Robert Jacques Turgot,Baron de Laune, declined to contribute further to a book which had acquired a badreputation.Diderot was left to finish the task as best he could. He wrote several hundred articles,some very slight, but many of them laborious, comprehensive, and long. He damaged hiseyesight correcting proofs and editing the manuscripts of less competent contributors. Hespent his days at workshops, mastering manufacturing processes, and his nights writingwhat he had learned during the day. He was incessantly harassed by threats of policeraids. The last copies of the first volume were issued in 1765. At the last moment, whenhis immense work was drawing to an end, he encountered a crowning mortification: hediscovered that the bookseller, fearing the government's displeasure, had struck out fromthe proof sheets, after they had left Diderot's hands, all passages that he considered toodangerous. The monument to which Diderot had given the labor of twenty long andoppressive years was irreparably mutilated and defaced. It was 12 years, in 1772, beforethe subscribers received the final 27 folio volumes of the  Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaireraisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers since the first volume had been published.François-Marie Arouet better known by the pen nameVoltaire was aFrench  Enlightenmentwriter and philosopher famous for hiswitand for his advocacy of civil liberties, Voltaire had an enormous influence on the development of historiography,  through his demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. His best-known historiesare The Age of Louis XIV  (1752), and  Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756). He broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, andemphasized customs, social history and achievements in the arts and sciences. The  Essay
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